E3 exhibitors afraid to show you their games?

As many of you know, I’ve been a game developer for most of my life, and my career in the industry goes back over 30 years. As such, I have seen trade shows come and go, and I was there when the Electronic Entertainment Expo, now universally known as E3, was first conceived as the industry’s replacement for the Chicago CES show.

Yesterday I went to the Los Angeles Convention Center to visit this year’s E3, but what greeted me was more reminiscent of a visit to Disneyland than a trade show. Let me explain…

For the past two or three years a strange trend has permeated E3, one that is unique to this particular trade show. Exhibitors would take their showcase games and no longer display them on the show floor. Instead they would isolate them in a separate room in the actual booth, allowing only a few people inside to see the game, in the course, forcing people to line up to wait their turn. SquareEnix was probably the first company to do this, years ago, to show off the latest “Final Fantasy” entry and over time other publishers adopted the practice.

Well, this year it took a turn for the extreme, because if you were visiting E3 this year, the odds are you didn’t even see half the games that were on display. Instead you saw theme-park-like waiting lines in virtually every major publisher’s booth. In fact, half the booth space of exhibitors, such as Warner Interactive, consisted of nothing but roped-off waiting lines. Take a look at this picture.

The entire length of the booth consisted of people waiting in line to see one of Warner’s top games. Because I was curious I actually decided to get in line to take a look at “Shadow Of Mordor,” the latest “Lord of the Rings” game, waited in line for almost 30 minutes, only to find that my line was cut off four or five guys ahead of me. Unable to get into that presentation I would have had to wait another hour to see the next one! Sorry, folks but that is just ludicrous.


Or take a look at the presentation of “Bloodborne” at the Sony booth.

The publisher deliberately placed the screen inwards so that you could not see the presentation from the outside. How backwards is that? Do you want people to see the game or not? How hard would it have been turn the booth 180 degrees and allow people walking by to see that game. It would have resulted in tons of additional exposure, but no, it is much more important to have people line up, clutter the rest of the booth and create a traffic block. Well done, guys!

What’s even more ridiculous is that some exhibitors made people line up to even check out games that have been already released. Electronic Arts, for example, forced people to line up, just to get their hands on “Titanfall,” an action shooter that was released three months ago! EA has never been known as a company with a lot of common sense, but this certainly scraped the bottom of the barrel.

This, of course, begs the question, are publishers afraid to show you their games? Not really. The answer is actually much simpler. It is sadly as juvenile as the games most of them make.

It all has to do with the opinion most publishers have of themselves. You have people in their marketing departments whose job it is to create excitement around the games they sell, and you have the executives of these companies whose job it is to turn a profit and make the shareholders happy. When you talk to these people, they all have one thing in common: They all think the games they sell are the best in the world and that the company they work for — which strangely changes very frequently — is the most important and influential player in the industry. In short, they live in this bubble where they make themselves believe the hype they are trying to create.

If you truly believe the success of your company or the sales of your game are determined by the length of the waiting line at E3, I have one word for you: psycho-analysis. Seriously, though, it is frightening to think that publishers are so simple-minded that they believe that bigger crowding in their booth buys them karma points and intimidates their competitors. (In their own minds, I have no doubt, their own crowds will always be the biggest and their lines will always be the longest, just as their company will always be the best.)


Therefore, a post-E3 statement at Warner Interactive, might easily sound something like this — “Did you see how long the lines were to see Mortal Kombat X? People really loved that game.”

What’s wrong with this statement? Well, first of all, it completely misses the point, because just because people stood in line doesn’t mean they actually got to see the game, let away, liked it. Since they never got to see the game and stood in line simply based on the assumption that the game might be interesting, to deduce that people liked the game is no more valid than saying that, with its lines and all, the DMV must be the epitome of a happy place.

In the real world, at a really useful trade event, the statement could have been “Did you see the crowd and how excited people were that they could finally see Mortal Kombat X?“

But that would predicate that people actually had the chance to witness the game as an openly accessible presentation in the booth, which was clearly not the case at E3. I didn’t see a single frame of Mortal Combat X, or Shadows of Mordor, or the new Batman: Arkham Asylum, or The Sims 4 and countless other games. And it frustrates me. Not only the fact that I went to a trade show to see the latest games, but also the fact that publisher truly expect me to stand in line for hours to see a video clip for single game, then leave, wait in line for an hour to see a clip of their other game, and so forth.

In their desire to appear to be the show’s hot ticket, they mistake a waiting line for actual enthusiasm. Or then again, they do not mistake it, they are fully aware of the farce, but they are so misguided that they think YOU can’t tell the difference, because the reason they really do it is because in their mind, they believe that these lines, reflect positively on them and the game you’re trying to see. Creating this barrier, the game becomes this intangible, unreachable objective that everyone has to aspire to because if the waiting lines are so long, the game has to be so cool, right.

Boy, oh boy… I saw through that gimmick in first grade when my teacher tried to use gold stars to draw better performances and behavior out of us. It is sad to see that these huge business entities allow the handling of their trade shows to stoop down to the level of first-graders. Gamers are not stupid…


As things go in the real world that I roamed in, the real sentiment among visitors at E3 these days is that they are disgruntled because they never even had the chance to see the game. Instead of spending the time talking to colleagues about the cool games we saw, creating real word of mouth interest, conversations around E3 were often taking place about how frustrating it is to get to see anything of interest. To assume that a visitor has an endless amount of time on their hands is completely half-baked and, frankly, stuck-up. Many industry professionals have to squeeze as much in a single day as they can, and there is no room to wait in line for hours on end. Evidently, for people who are working the trade-show booths this is not an issue because to them it is one large three-day event, but for the throngs of visitors it is not.

So, in the end, exhibitors are really shooting themselves in the foot with this practice. I would have been happy to tell people about how great “The Sims 4” looks, how amazing “Dragon Age: Inquisition,” or how cool “Shadow of Mordor” seems to be, but I can’t and I won’t, because I never saw the games, and to me that is a joke. It is a sign for me that the industry has lost all perspective in its self-indulgent make-believe bubble. You either want to show off your product, or you don’t. If the latter is true, you have no place on the trade show floor, and if the number of guards, whose job it is to make sure no one’s jumping lines, outnumbers the number of presenters in your booth, you know that you definitely got something wrong.

E3 is the only trade show I’ve ever seen with this kind of practice. These are not closed door meetings, which have their value and purpose, but public displays that deliberately shun visitors to create the illusion of something special. To me, that is just backfiring. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and, quite honestly, I no longer care if “Shadow of Mordor” is any good or not. I have lost interest… good job!


10 Replies to “E3 exhibitors afraid to show you their games?”

  1. Richard

    Well spoken and even though I have never been to a trade show, being a player since the 1980:s, I agree totally with your analysis. They are sucking the soul out of the gaming industry with procedures like this.

  2. Neal Alan Spurlock

    This is the natural result of too much obsession with short-term maximization of the min/max function…if no one is allowed to think beyond the next quarter, and if groupthink and communication breakdown follow their normal patterns, it becomes impossible to evaluate the games and the industry properly. It’s one of the primary cognitive problems I observe in our culture: no one has the time/energy/opportunity to gestalt and engage in necessary abstraction; even the executives and administrators, to whom these responsibilities ostensibly belong, are prevented from doing their jobs well because of the shortsightedness of their investors/board.

    It’s like everyone is trying, simultaneously, to keep themselves and each other so busy they CAN’T see the big picture. And this is not just in games; film and TV, publishing, finance, academia, medicine…attempts to evaluate are discouraged and made impossible, such that EA thought that, after the circus that was “#TitanFail”, it was a great idea to remind gamers of the issue with a line for a game that’s been out for a goodly while. Only groupthink and tunnel vision on massive level explains such a bizarre move.

  3. Drew G.

    I totally agree with you. I hadn’t been to e3 in a couple years and it was a huge let down to see this. It used to be that publishers would have large open floor plans. This year they built huge dividers to funnel people into their booths and not be able to roam freely. I barely saw any of the games too because I was unwilling to wait 1-1.5 hours in line to see one. At least if they were going to do this take a hint from Disney and allow people to reserve a seat at a certain time and walk around the show and come back.

    Utter disappointment. I personally found the whole experience this year was a big let down. One big stroke job by everyone. Almost had a taste of “we are making it hard to see this game so those that see it get a few tastey rumors during the presentation and we release them unto the masses to hype the $%#+ out of our game and we can deny the rumors/features that didn’t make it ever existed. “

  4. BANE

    Who the hell cares? So what they make it difficult to show off their games? You can play it when the game comes out just like the rest of us. This is just whiney journalism at its finest. You aren’t catered to like the gods you think you are, so you bitch and moan and claim how backwards everything is. E3 has been like this for a while now and guess what? The games coming out are still incredible, even though the bratty “journalist” didnt get to see or play the game 6 months in advance at E3.

    • Guido

      If only it were like that. First of all, I’m no journalist, so my blog post is hardly whiney journalism. I go to E3 as a game developer/publisher. Next up, journalists actually get to see the games because they get preferential treatment and do not have to wait in line like other trade visitors. And finally, no, the games are not incredible. There’s maybe one or two games a year these days coming out of the traditional games industry that are worth playing, the rest is all really just dribble and copycat product. I mean, really, how many first-person shooters does the world really need, especially considering that they all feel, look and play the same?

  5. Andre

    I’ve never been to E3 myself, but that seems crap indeed. Not to mention rude, treating people like a flock of sheep almost. No doubt the work of clueless publishers. Maybe I’d attend if I were living close by, but no way would I travel far for something like that. The internet will do just fine.

    I looked up your website (I backed Deathfire) to see what you were up to. Will you pursue game development again at some point? Are you able to throw us a bone? 🙂

    • Guido

      Sorry, Andre, thanks for backing Deathfire at the time. I’ve been keeping busy with a number of other things since then and I currently have no game projects lined up at all, since funding for my game projects seems to elude me. 😉

  6. Andre

    Still think it’s a shame Deathfire didn’t get funded. But what’s done is done. Sincerely hope you’ll dive into game development again down the road.

    By the way, have you heard of Patreon? It’s not like Kickstarter where it’s about one big goal, but you get funding “piece by piece” as it gets done/released. If not for games, it might be suitable for something else you decide to pursue. Just thought I’d mention it. Best of luck.

  7. Dustin

    One problem I had was the WB booth. They had two different screens, so they had to run a schedule according to that. This made it so each game only had 15 minutes to showcase themselves and were cut off right after that so the next group can see the next game. This meant that no matter what you had to wait AT LEAST a half hour to see the next showcase because the current presentation was 15 minutes, then the other game gets 15 minutes. The bigger titles like Batman and MK are what made the wait even longer because they’d get double showcases.

    Then of course you had “VIP’s” go in first and when it was finally my groups turn, like 20 “VIPs” came out of no where and walked in, so we were cut off and had to wait longer. Even their press people were apologizing to us and saying how complicated it was so they felt bad about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.